Let Them Hit Bottom

By: Bob Minor

There are clear signs that right-wing dominance is waning. But it’s not time for us to celebrate or think that their fall is irreversible.

It’s time instead to make sure we aren’t under them, trying to prop up their egos, while they fall. It’s time to ensure we aren’t enablers who keep what isn’t going to be a pretty sight from happening. It’s time we repeated clearly, out-loud what we really believe is true and that it is not what they’ve been telling us.

It’s all common knowledge in addiction theory. Hitting rock bottom is crucial. It’s inevitable only if enablers don’t slow the fall or soften the final thud so addicts don’t get to feel what they must to realize that they need to change their ways.

The desperate, fevered activity of the religious-political right-wing to get their own righteousness enshrined in the whole country reflects fear that their time is coming to an end. They believed in Bush as their last hope. Now the leading Republican candidates for the presidency have them even more worried. They’re losing faith and looking for another messiah to cling this season.

Even the Christian right-wing stars can’t agree. Pat Robertson endorsed Rudy Giuliani in November while James Dobson threatens to form a third party if Rudy is the candidate.

As Democratic candidates also adjust their values to get elected, though, maybe Hillary will become the conservative’s best hope. She certainly has conservative big business behind her already with what matters most to it – investments in her.

The signs are all over that as we baby boomers die off, the religious and political landscape is going to change. What’s called the millennial generation, those born between 1978 and 1996, is very different.

They are the most diverse generation ever with nearly 40% from minority groups. Numbering about 80 million, they voted for Democrats in the 2006 election by 22 percent. One study indicates that they volunteer at the highest level ever recorded for youth in 40 years.

Polls reveal that they are extremely concerned about the environment. They support gay marriage by 56%. 63% believe that government should be more involved in solving the country’s problems, and 62% favor tax-financed, government-administered universal health care.

Studies of the millennials don’t give right-wing religion and its current expression in politics much hope. 74% say that the “people’s will” should have more influence on US laws than the Bible.

And a 2007 study by the Barna Research Group, a conservative, non-profit research corporation that advises Christians about how to become more effective, is even less hopeful for the right-wing. In a new book co-authored by its president, David Kinnaman, entitled unChristian: What a New Generation Thinks about Christianity and Why It Matters, and published by conservative Baker Books, the statistics should be especially unnerving to them.

Kinnaman’s interpretation, however, seems to enable the right-wing to believe it’s not the fault of their mean-spirited quest for control of the country and every soul in it. So, I expect his spin will give them an out. They won’t have to question their fundamental problems.

For the rest of us, it’s good news. It reflects the fact that addictive religion and its pushers are unappealing to many of these millennials.

It’s not just that it shows that 40% of 16-29 year-olds identify as atheists, agnostics, adherents of non-Christian religions, and those who have no faith orientation. That compares to only 25% of adults over 40 who so identify.

More interesting is that 16-29 years olds are far more critical toward, and even resistant to, Christianity than the same age group was a decade ago. Ten years ago a large majority of Americans outside Christianity felt favorable toward Christianity and its role in society.

Now a mere 16% of those who identify as non-Christians in the age group said they have a “good impression of Christianity” The skepticism has been growing quickly among the young.

One can assume that the “Christianity” millennials are reacting to is the dominant, outspoken version that they overwhelmingly experience in the media -- conservative, fundamentalist, and right-wing. What is most telling is that they judge those who do identify as Christian conservatives, such as Evangelicals, in the harshest terms.

Only 3% of 16 to 29 year-olds who identify as non-Christian express favorable views of conservative Christianity compared to 25% of those who did in past baby boomer generation surveys.

When 16-29 year-olds were questioned about ten favorable and ten unfavorable images of these Christians, 87% marked judgmental, 85% marked hypocritical, 78% marked old-fashioned, and 75% said Christians were too involved in politics.

On top of that, among “favorable” attributes, 82% of non-Christians thought that Christianity teaches the same basic ideas as other religions. The Christian right-wing must hate that. They believe they’re the only ones teaching the Truth. Those other religions that “reject Christ” are doomed. Even half of the young people who qualify as Christians by the Barna Group’s criteria perceived Christianity as judgmental, hypocritical and too political. A third said it’s out of touch with reality.

And the most common perception is that Christianity’s image today is “anti-homosexual.” 91% of non-Christians and 80% of young church-goers said so and followed up with claims that Christians go out of their way to show contempt and unloving attitudes toward lesbians and gay men. Even 22% of self-identified “born-again” young people without prompting on the survey said: “Christianity in today’s society no longer looks like Jesus.”

Like others, religious addicts will blame everything but themselves for all of this – you, me, Hollywood, culture, liberals, atheists, professors. You know the list.

They won’t interpret this as their fault because they need to believe that their righteous stance comes directly from God. It has nothing to do with their bigotry, insecurity, and refusal to deal with their problems.

But we know the cause because outside the addiction we’ve seen it. And what we can do is make sure we say so.

Robert N. Minor, Ph.D. is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas and author of Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society and Scared Straight: Why It's So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why It's So Hard to Be Human. Reach him at www.fairnessproject.org.

Copyright © by the author All Rights Reserved

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